ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Following forecasts of sustained growth in the cannabis industry, Grand Valley State University is expanding class offerings to help its students find their footing after graduation.

Starting this fall, GVSU’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program will offer more courses for students to take to earn a specialized badge, certificate or minor in cannabis operations.

Affiliate professor John Lipford says the concept started out as a single course in 2019. He was blown away by the amount of interest.

“I proposed to my colleagues in hospitality and tourism management a proposal based on a course for cannabis regulations and tourism. At the time it was the first course in the U.S. that was focused on cannabis tourism as a burgeoning industry and as a growth sector to the cannabis industry itself,” Lipford told News 8. “Once that was offered, I mean, it filled within a week — 40 students from all different disciplines at the university.”

The nine-credit badges and 15-credit certificates are open to any GVSU students, but courses required for the 20-credit minor are only available for students enrolled in a degree program.

Lipford says 80% of the seats are already filled for three new classes — “Cannabis and Culture,” “Cannabis Regulations and Tourism” and “Responsible Cannabis Operations.”

“And they come from all those 30 different academic disciplines, from sociology to public health to hospitality, psychology, all over the place at the university,” Lipford said.

The cannabis industry has surged in Michigan since recreational marijuana was approved by a ballot initiative in 2018. Now, Michigan is the third-largest cannabis market, behind only California and Colorado.

According to the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, companies recorded $1.79 billion in marijuana sales in 2021 and generated $350 million in tax revenue for the state. Lipford expects those numbers to climb and for Michigan to follow the lead of other states when it comes to advertising the state as a go-to destination for quality marijuana.

“It came on my radar about 2012, which was when Colorado and Washington became the first jurisdictions, really, within the world to have legal adult-use cannabis,” Lipford said. “And then we started seeing things like a place called “My 420 Tours” out in Colorado that had a waiting list. Or you started seeing what they call a bud-and-breakfast pop up out there.”

Lipford also expects to see more spaces where adults can consume marijuana in public. So far, two designated consumption lounges have opened in Michigan, one in Hazel Park and another in Kalkaska.

Despite the huge surge in business, Michigan still has room for growth.

“Still less than 10% of municipalities have opted in to allow adult use,” Lipford said. “When we start seeing conversations about the (illegal market), a lot of that deals with access. We are dealing with some of the same problems that Colorado and California and others have experienced, that people want to go and buy it from a legal source, but maybe there’s not one close to them.”

Grand Valley State is the fourth Michigan university to develop a curriculum around cannabis, but the first to focus on hospitality and tourism.

“There are some out in California as well as Canada that have been looking at cannabis tourism from a holistic perspective, saying how can we take the current amenities that exist within hospitality — lodging, food service, events and otherwise – and then infuse them with cannabis, much like we have done to some extent with alcohol. But unlike alcohol, we’ve seen a greater emphasis on wellness, as well,” Lipford said.

The courses will also have a broader focus on the community, not just the science or the business aspect of the cannabis industry.

“We’re really hopeful that it’s going to make a meaningful impact and allow people to talk about something that has been so historically stigmatized,” Lipford said. “Finding facts is one of the main goals of this because there’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there. We’ve been having this conversation for over a hundred years about what does (marijuana) do to people? What does it do to our communities? And I’m here to say, so far, the sky’s not falling, and things seem to be trending in a positive direction.”